EXCLUSIVE: Lindt café staff tell ‘We found love after the siege’

Co-workers Joel and Eunice share their story
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December 15 is a date that still haunts Joel Herat. 

Eight years ago on this day, he survived the terrorist attack at the Lindt Café in Sydney’s Martin Place.

“I do have my good days and my bad days,” Joel, 29, tells New Idea in an exclusive interview.

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The 16-hour ordeal claimed the lives of Sydney barrister Katrina Dawson, 38, and Lindt Café manager, Tori Johnson, 34.

Three women were nursing gunshots while a police officer was wounded.

Understandably, the day changed Joel’s life forever.

But one of the few good things to come out of the ordeal for Joel was falling in love with his co-worker, Eunice Estaris.

Joel and Eunice found each other after their mentor Tori, was killed by gunman, Man Haron Monis, 50.

Tori selflessly chose to stay when Joel and others escaped, to protect the 18 trapped hostages.

It was “kind and caring” Eunice, 27, on annual leave when the terrifying attack at her workplace was unfolding, who helped Joel heal as they both grappled to come to terms with what happened.

“She would always come over and check on me,” says Joel.

“I was so mentally burnt out because of what had happened.”

Joel and Eunice
Joel and Eunice are grateful to have found each other (Credit: Tina Smigielski)

What initially began as a friendship between two shattered survivors, soon developed into a love affair as they both realised their feelings.

Now they’re planning their wedding.

“Eunice is an all-round amazing girlfriend,” smiles Joel, who has yet to officially pop the question but has chosen a diamond engagement ring with Eunice’s approval.

They are also discussing possible wedding venues.

His gorgeous future bride appears to be equally smitten, even if she jokes that Joel needs to hurry up and propose.

“At the moment the ball is in Joel’s court,” Eunice laughs.

“I’m trying not to get ahead of myself!”

Joel running from the cafe
Hostages, including Joel (front) ran for their lives (Credit: Getty)

The couple decided to move to Melbourne earlier this year for a fresh start, but December 15 still looms large in both their lives, and their sadness at losing Tori never ends.

“When you haven’t unpacked it for a while, it’s like going through an old box of personal effects,” Joel says.

He was hailed a hero after he grabbed the arm of his pregnant workmate, Harriette Denny, and told her he wasn’t leaving her behind as they fled the cafe at 2.03am on December 16.

They were in a group of six, with bullets flying above their heads as they escaped.

Joel says the ‘hero’ label doesn’t sit right with him, because he wondered for years if he could have done more.

“That’s what I keep telling myself. I’m not a superhero. I’m not The Flash. I’m not Batman. I’m not Superman. I had to realise I was just a normal boy, a normal, skinny 21-year-old,” he says, adding that if anyone was a hero, it was Tori.

“He stayed behind,” he says simply.

“He knew the inner workings of that cafe. He knew which exit and entrance you could go to, he probably knew all the nuances and tricks he could do to escape at any moment. He could have gone but he stayed.”

Tori stayed behind to help Robyn Hope, 75, and her daughter, Louisa Hope, 52, who were physically unable to run.

Joel and Eunice
The couple cannot wait to wed (Credit: Tina Smigielski)

Robyn was shot in the shoulder and Louisa in the foot, while a third hostage, Marcia Mikhael, 50, was shot in the leg.

All three survived.

Joel and Eunice eventually made the decision to return to their jobs at the Lindt Café to re-claim all that was good about a workplace they loved.

“I decided I wasn’t going to allow adversity to affect me, or put me in a cage where I was afraid to do anything. I knew it was a good way to build some resilience. I try and be as positive as I can and see this as a second opportunity to have a crack at life,” Joel says.

Joel, who even took a day off from another job to work at Lindt Café on the third or fourth anniversary of the siege because he thought it was important to be there, spend the day with Eunice this year, reflecting and remembering.

“It is an anniversary thing I do to remind myself how far I’ve come from that point,” he says.

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